A Progress Report…

You know that part of a project when you’ve got about a billion different elements clanging about in your head demanding recognition and attention and to be top dog and you know all of them are probably important or essential but you can’t for the life of you sort out how to make anything other than goulash out of the whole mess–maybe a bit more paprika will help?  Well, it’s rather like that.

europe1815A break-through occurred on a day-trip with my rather ingenious and maths-minded daughter a bit ago, when I put forward my difficulty with all the research (no, I am not going to tell you how many tomes or how many languages…) and asked if she could see her way to organising it all for me.  She, being very whizzy at these sorts of problems, had three different solutions in about 30 seconds.  All of which were excellent.  (I hate that.  It’s so breathtakingly easy and she makes it all seem so obvious…)

So we spent several days together with me downloading the contents of my brain and the many books and journals into her magic notebook, which she then turned into a frighteningly efficient thing for cross-referencing as well as a series of maps and other such intellectual delights…we still have several volumes to go.

But it was at this point, when she looked at the pages and pages of notes she’d made, the outsize cast of historical personages (I hadn’t even mentioned the fictional additions…) that she observed, “No wonder you’ve had problems.  This is like a game of chess with twenty players!

“For heaven’s sake, you’ve got five separate armies on the move…”

And that pretty much sums it up.  (Okay, yah, there are a great many generals and staff officers with Russian and Prussian surnames, I admit that…)

But since then, since then–and even with the delicious manifold diversions offered by the Christmas season–progress has not only seemed possible, but has got underway.  Of course, no one is more astonished at this than self.  But there it is.

NPG 891,Robert Stewart, 2nd Marquess of Londonderry (Lord Castlereagh),by Sir Thomas LawrenceA new opening chapter has presented itself which makes brilliant sense of all sorts of things and which just popped out of the too many notebooks of research notes and I find myself in the unusual position of being quite positive, hopeful and even feeling a bit of the old Bennetts wit returning to the page…

So that’s me.  Yes, a trifle overwhelmed by the too much that I know, but with help gaining some sense of control over it all…and you know what that means, don’t you?  That means a book will dribble itself out of my thoughts onto the page and into your hands eventually.

So thanks for all the support, cheer, and encouragement.  It’s meant more than you’ll ever know…

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

[do follow me on Twitter: @mmbennetts ]

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Why things aren’t always clear-cut…

There are a lot of armchair historians out there these days…which, don’t get me wrong, I think is a good thing.

For one thing, it may mean that the publishers who seem to have given up on publishing history in favour of celebrity drool-fests might rethink their strategy and go back to publishing works by the likes of Charles Esdaile, Dominic Lieven, Andrew Roberts, Michael Broers and all these other fabulous authors I admire.  And that wouldn’t just be a good thing, it would be a grand and noble and enriching thing.

(It would additionally mean I’d have to add another bookcase in the Growlery, but who’s counting…)

Yet it often also means another thing, and that is, everybody’s got an opinion on everything.  No matter how small, somebody’s going to give it to you when your views don’t match theirs.

Let me give you an example.  Let’s consider the introduction of the waltz into British society.  (A dangerous pastime, I know…)

You might think it’s of no import, and quite possibly, you’d be right.  Does it matter?  Did it lead to anyone’s death, to an epidemic of disease, to the cure of a disease, to war, to peace, to the emancipation of women or slaves?  And the answer is, of course, none of the above.  Nevertheless, a lot of folks get very miffy over it–insisting that it could not ever, ever, ever be mentioned in a book that was set earlier than 1815-1816.

May 1812And this is where the issue begins to impinge on self.  Because my works (thus far) are set in 1812 and 1813…and I do mention the waltz.  (And being a bit of a fiend for accuracy in my own work, this concerned me…)

So I was chatting about this dilemma to another historian, one whom I respect enormously as much for her knowledge as for her ability to approach problems from different angles.

And after recounting the adamant position of those who held that it was unknown here until the Lievens introduced it in the late autumn of 1812 (he was the Russian ambassador), and discussing with her the various historical references I had to hand, including engravings of waltzing couples published well before 1812, she said something quite interesting.

She said, “When was waltz music first published here?  Because if they’re waltzing to music, then somebody has to be playing it for them…And that will tell you when it started to become popular and socially acceptable.”

Is that a stroke of genius or what?  Of course, she’s right.

And it was at that point that things started to get very interesting.  Because the first publication of music for the waltz was in 1806.  A not-well-known-to-us English composer, Edward Jones, published A Selection of Original German Waltzes, and dedicated the volume of music to none other than the Princess Charlotte (who was only ten at the time).

And here’s another thing, publishing companies don’t just publish stuff for no reason–they have to believe there’s a market for their product and they’re going to sell the stock.  So, 1806 has to herald enough of a degree of popularity for the music and dance that the sheet music is going to fly off the shelves…

Anyway, this novel approach to searching out the music led me to a number of quite fascinating bijou fact-ettes about the waltz, all of which kind of overturn the idea that this ‘shocking’ dance erupted on the scene out of nowhere in about 1814-15.

In 1810, Gillray published his famous caricature of waltzing couples, entitled, Le bon Genre.

There’s Lord Byron’s poem about it, A Satire on Waltzing, which was written in the autumn of 1812 and published anonymously in the spring of 1813.  He disapproved, as unlikely as that seems, given his reputation:

Endearing Waltz! — to thy more melting tune
Bow Irish jig and ancient rigadoon.
Scotch reels, avaunt! and country-dance, forego
Your future claims to each fantastic toe!
Waltz — Waltz alone — both legs and arms demands,
Liberal of feet, and lavish of her hands;
Hands which may freely range in public sight
Where ne’er before — but — pray “put out the light.”
Methinks the glare of yonder chandelier
Shines much too far — or I am much too near;
And true, though strange — Waltz whispers this remark,
“My slippery steps are safest in the dark!”

lawrence-caro-lambThere’s also the small matter of a letter from Lady Caroline Lamb, again written in 1812, which says:

“My cousin Hartington wanted to have waltzes and quadrilles; and at Devonshire House it could not be allowed, so we had them in the great drawing-room at Whitehall. All the ‘bon ton’ assembled there continually. There was nothing so fashionable.”

Equally, there is another private letter, this time by Byron, written in 1811, in which he complains about the immorality of the dance (yes, I know, rich coming from him!) and how all the nobility are indulging in it…

And finally, there’s this lovely bit of insight into Viscount Castlereagh’s personality–that’s the Foreign Secretary, in case you’d forgot, with the wife who’s allegedly a stodgy great stickler for manners and morals as well as a Patroness of Almack’s.

Lord-Castlereaghs-waltzNevertheless, by 1815, because he loved it so much, there was even a waltz dedicated to him, with the title, Lord Castlereagh’s Waltz.  And the most famous dancing master of the age, Thomas Wilson, supplied not one, but two versions of this dance in his immensely popular volume, Le Sylph, An Elegant Collection of Twenty Four Country Dances published in 1815.

And years later, writing about her uncle’s fondness for the dance, Castlereagh’s beloved niece, Emma, would say:

“He liked the society of young people, and far from checking their mirth and their nonsense, he enjoyed and encouraged it, with his own fun and cheerfulness…he was able to work serenely at the most important dispatches amidst the clamour of a family party, which he preferred to the isolation of his study.  If an air were played that pleased him, he would go to the pianoforte and sing it; if a waltz, he would say, ‘Emma, let us take a turn,’ and after waltzing for a few minutes, he would resume his writing.   His power of abstraction was indeed remarkable; our talking and laughter did not disturb him; once only do I recollect that he rose from his chair laughing, and saying, ‘You are too much.’”

All of which evidence suggests to me that the waltz–not the one we know (and I’ll get to that in a minute)–was well and truly a fixture on the dance floor long before it was allowed at Almack’s.

Though even that date has to be fixed no later than June 1814, because Tsar Alexander was here for a few weeks’ visit then, and we know he loved to waltz (whether it was that he loved the dance or he loved the opportunity to get handsy, I can’t tell you), but I just can’t see anyone saying “no” to him–not even at Almack’s, where he assuredly went.

Which led me to examine the issue even more closely…one reference I found to it in 1802, spoke of the waltz as but one of a medley of elements making up the series of country dances…so lots of people were learning it and dancing it, they just didn’t necessarily have a separate designation for it.

It was at this point then, that I began to wonder, ‘Exactly, what the heck were they doing back then, really…

Eventually, I fossicked out the answer on the website of a dance historian by the name of Walter Nelson, who paraphrasing the description from the aforementioned book by Thomas Wilson, writes:

1806waltz“It began with the ‘March’ which was a very brief side by side promenade. This turned quickly into the ‘Pirouette” or ‘Slow Waltz’.  The partners would take each other in one of several holds, one of the more popular of which had the partners facing in opposite directions, hip to hip, with one arm across the front of the partner’s body and the other hands holding in an arch above the body.  In this posture, they would rotate very slowly, with their gaze fixed on one another.  This was the part that probably made the blue stockings the most nervous.

“The next was the ‘Sauteuse’.  At this point, the dance got a bit more energetic, with the music tempo increasing and the dancers working a little hop into the step.  The posture would be changed – one possible option would be the man holding both the lady’s hands behind her back.

The routine would finish with the ‘Jetté’ which was even more energetic and up tempo.”

And as Mr. Nelson also says of it:

“The Waltz we know today was not the Waltz of the Empire/Regency era. It was not the fast moving, twirling Viennese Waltz of the Victorians, and it was not the sedate but graceful box-step of the 20th Century.  It was a strikingly intimate and sensuous dance, which is a major departure from the group dances and stately minuets of earlier generations.  To a society that focused so much attention on harnessing teenage libido to the purpose of making a good marriage, this was rather disturbing.”

Wow!

So there you have it.  It wasn’t as I thought.  It wasn’t what anyone I’d spoken to previously thought.  It was a twisty, turning tale of some were, some weren’t, some knew, some didn’t, here a little, there not so much…just like all history, really.

Not at all clear-cut…In fact, messy as a pig’s breakfast.

Daily Life ~ Through the Prism of The Great War

This is one of those blog posts I’ve been avoiding writing for some time now.  Like for well over a year.

Chiefly because writing it will mean that I might have to get up off my sorry backside and go look in a book or two to confirm a couple of details rather than just opening up my brain and allowing the contents to leak onto the page.  Which obviously is my preferred method.

English officersYou see, as I’ve observed the popular focus on the early 19th century in novels and because of the undimming interest in Austen, I’ve come to feel that–somehow–there’s this assumption from the few oblique references to it in Austen’s works that the long wars with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France really didn’t impact on the lives of the ordinary and/or aristocratic British at this time.

But that’s a bit like inferring that Austen and her family didn’t eat eggs.  Or wouldn’t have known what they were. She never mentions them, does she?  Ergo…

Yet, like eggs or milk or bread, during the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Britain, the ongoing war with France was so much a part of the fabric of daily life that–like her omitting to say that her characters had eggs for breakfast–it possibly didn’t occur to her to mention it.  Indeed, this period of war created the very weft and warp of their existence…And the daily reminders of it–they called it the Great War–were so constant, so ubiquitous in their daily lives, that Austen and all her readers took it as understood.

horationelson2The wars with France between 1793-1815 defined, changed and effected abso-blooming-lutely everything!  And they went on and on and on, world without end, amen…

And therefore I would contend that in order to truly understand the period–which some call the Regency (though that’s far from strictly accurate)–one must view it not through a rose-tinted lorgnette with an aristocratic mother-of-pearl handle, but rather through war-tinted spectacles.

Let me show you.

From the outset of the French Revolution, English eyes (and newspapers) had been riveted on the unfolding events in Paris.  Remember–France is right across that little arm of water called the Channel (or la Manche if you’re French)…a body of water so narrow, a person can swim it.  A small boat can sail it on a fine day…

Until just 250 years previously, at least a part of France had always been owned or ruled by England.  The ties, therefore, for all sorts of reasons, were very close.  So, it must have seemed like their French cousins and business partners/competition had plunged into a vortex of sanguinary madness such as had never before been seen…

warprintAnd then, in 1793, four years into this Revolution, the French declared war on Britain.  Viscount Castlereagh, when still a young man, was the in the Low Countries during the September Massacres…he daren’t enter France himself…and he read with mounting horror the newspaper accounts of the events that still today are nearly unreadable for their savagery.

By 1797, France was strong enough and cocksure enough to attempt invasions of both Ireland (then under British rule) and the British mainland…both, fortunately, fizzled out–Ireland’s due to a blizzard and heaving gale and the mainland’s due to the inferiority of the French troops and the welly of the Welsh they encountered at Fishguard.

martellotower But subsequently, all along the south coast, successive governments would embark on building a series of Martello towers to protect against the present threat on invasion.

Nor was invasion just a mythical nightmare of a threat.  Napoleon, in power since 1799, used the year of the Peace of Amiens (1802-1803) to establish one of the largest army camps at Boulogne–which again, is just across the Channel and which, on a clear day, one can see from the coast of Kent.  And what the English saw didn’t make for very reassuring viewing.

For at Boulogne, Napoleon was assembling his troops for invasion.  Some 500,000 of them. And often he was there himself, reviewing the troops in full view of the English telescopic lenses trained on the place.  Imagine it.

Bearing in mind that ever since the Commonwealth, Britain hadn’t had a standing army per se–or at least nothing on the scale of the European powers–this was pretty scary stuff.  If that Corsican upstart managed to get those troops across that tiny slip of water, the result would have been overwhelming.  Quite literally.

Thus, the army fellows spent weeks and months working out which were the most likely points of access and then, carving up Kent and Sussex with a series of water courses to hinder the French advance while they, in London, would get the King and royal family away to safety in Wheedon–where they built the early 19th century version of a royal bomb shelter.  As the whole of Kent and Sussex were carved up this way, the impact on transportation and even agriculture would have been immense–a daily reminder of the threat across the water.

It seems impossible to fathom, of course, but although he was pretty hot as a general on land, Napoleon never got the hang of water.  And that, of course, saved Britain time and again from his invading forces.

Those forces gathering and threatening in Boulogne were only held back as the French waited for a spell of calm in which to cross over. Because Napoleon, judging the difficulty of navigation solely on the width of the Channel, had opted for rafts–large wooden rafts, four feet deep–in which to transport his men, horses, artillery across to England.

And when the first troops were loaded onto these rafts for his inspection, they, er, tipped over.  Many soldiers–being unable to swim–drowned, the guns fell into the water and sank, and the horses swam for shore.  Whereupon, Napoleon stormed off in one of his classic rages…

The threat may have been lessened for the moment, but the Brits didn’t lose their sense of vulnerability.  Not ever.

semaphore towerImagine the disruption to daily life, there, along the south coast.  Also along the coast, just as in the weeks preceding the arrival of the Spanish Armada, huge woodpiles were erected to act as beacons should the French be sighted crossing.  Added to this, from 1796, there were the telegraph hills or semaphore towers, marring the skyline perhaps, but able to send coded messages inland (Deal to London) in a matter of minutes.

No wonder the militias in those southern counties were particularly active and always recruiting…and all the landed families of each county would have been expected to send their sons and husbands to be officers in the militia, if they hadn’t already bought commissions in the military or gone to sea…

Britain was indubitably on a war footing and that’s how things would remain until 1814…

Everywhere they went, everything they saw and experienced would have emphasised this, if ever they forgot…the newspapers churned out a daily diet of war coverage, and particularly naval coverage, because it was at sea that Britain truly excelled.

Between the years of 1793 and 1812, year upon year, Parliament voted to expand the size of the Royal Navy, taking its size from 135 vessels in 1793 to 584 ships in 1812, with an increase in seamen from 36,000 to 114,000 men.   Those seamen all had families, families who missed them whilst they were away, families who grieved if and when they were lost.

In 1792, the size of the merchant marine was already at 118,000, but this too expanded as the Continent was increasingly closed to British trade and British merchants had to seek farther afield for fresh markets.

nelson'stombAdmiral Horatio Nelson was the hero of the age–embodying the tenacity, the daring, the sea-savvy of Britons through the centuries, standing up to Continental aggression and aggrandisement alone.  He wasn’t just lionised, he was idolised.

Thousands upon thousands of British boys went to sea because of him–and he was known for treating the younkers well.  When he died at Trafalgar, the nation mourned, quite literally.  (Have a look at his catafalque in St. Paul’s if you doubt it.)

Again, along the south coast, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Southampton were all swimming with sailors, and with all those industries which support a maritime war–from shipyards to rope-makers to munitions-makers…it was boom-time.

Encampment in St. James's Park 1780

Encampment in St. James’s Park 1780

Hyde Park and numerous other vast public tracts of land were covered with the tents and paraphernalia of military training camps for the army.

But it wasn’t just in the ubiquity of the military that one sees the war–the preferred and very available art form of this period was the cartoon, the satirical print.  The war and in particular, Napoleon, provided the fertile imaginations of the cartoonists with a veritable buffet of opportunities for their cynical art and wit.

printshopwindow1Given then some 40% of the population was illiterate, it was from these prints, every day displayed in print shop windows, that the British public, gawping and laughing, gathered much of its news and thereby formed its opinions.  (That’s every day for nearly 20 years!)

The theatres too invariably included a naval spectacle or re-enactment as part of each evening’s bill, in much the same way as during WWII wartime dramas starring John Mills were churned out by Pinewood Studios.

Plays about Nelson were the most popular and the plays of Charles Dibden (then popular, now forgot) reflected this with titles like Naval Pillars, a piece based on Nelson’s victory at Aboukir Bay.  Indeed, it was often joked that Dibden should be decorated by the Admiralty for the number of successful naval dramas he’d written…

As if that weren’t enough, the popularity of these maritime spectacles prompted the owners of Sadler’s Wells to create a lake of real water upon their stage as a more lifelike setting for all these pieces.  And when one considers that up to 20,000 Londoners attended the theatre each night–and that’s not including Vauxhall Gardens where they also produced martial spectacles or any of the smaller venues where the chief attraction was naval illuminations–that’s when you start to see this war as almost the emotional meat and potatoes of their daily lives.

militarystyleClothing design, especially for women, embraced the military influence–whether it was riding jackets a la militaire with double rows of buttons and frogging up the bodices and cuffs, or as lady’s head wear, taking its shape from the common shako or the caterpiller-crested helmets of the dragoons, there it is again.

For the underclasses, let’s call them, all along the coast from Cornwall up to East Anglia, the endless French wars led to an increase in smuggling activity upon an industrial scale.

Brandy, French silk, and all sorts were smuggled in, whilst wool for uniforms was smuggled from East Anglia, and just about everything else you can imagine was smuggled from the rest of the coast to European beaches…the organisation and size of these smuggling gangs grew proportionately more sophisticated as the wars raged on, and once Napoleon closed Europe’s borders to British trade, the size of these gangs just mushroomed.

As did the need for an increased presence of Preventive Officers and Revenue Cutters, patrolling the waters of the Solent, the Channel, and the North Sea…

And finally, these wars hit everyone where they’d feel it most, every day.  In their pockets.

The war itself, added to the agricultural consequences of years of terrible harvests, led to rampant inflation.  Food prices as well as the cost of common goods soared.  The lack of grain was so acute that in the years 1808-1812, the Government had been forced to buy thousands of tons of grain from the United States, to be shipped to feed the British troops on the Peninsula.

shako1Not only that, but within five years of its breaking out, the cost of the war had effectively drained the Treasury–the wretched conditions in the Royal Navy had in 1797 led to mutiny and the army was, not to put too fine a point on it, starving.  There was, as seen up above, a serious threat of French invasion and Ireland needed troops to ward off any French incursion there.

Pitt the Younger was both Prime Minister as well as Chancellor of the Exchequer (a common combination of offices at that time) and he felt there was a need for an increase in ‘aid and contribution for the prosecution of the war.’  His solution?  Income tax.  Which was announced in 1798 and became part of every taxpayer’s nightmare from 1799.  As today’s Inland Revenue describes it, it was a fairly straightforward proposition:

“Income tax was to be applied in Great Britain (but not Ireland) at a rate of 10% on the total income of the taxpayer from all sources above £60, with reductions on income up to £200.  It was to be paid in six equal instalments from June 1799, with an expected return of £10 million in its first year. It actually realised less than £6 million, but the money was vital and a precedent had been set…”

It was, as it turned out, just a drop in the bucket when set against the vast costs of the war.  A detailed, country by country, analysis of the subsidies Britain paid to her allies over this twenty year period adds up to the eye-watering sum of £55,228,892.

(If you’d like that in today’s money, that’s £3.5 billion, using the retail price index.  Or if you prefer to calculate using average earnings, £55.1 billion.)

And if you think they weren’t constantly grumbling about it…think again.

Nor does that sum include the cost of maintaining a military force in the Peninsula under Wellington, the cost of the disastrous Walcheren expedition, nor the vast (and we’re talking millions) sums secretly paid out to the intelligence agents and spies…The total figure, therefore, is closer to £700 million or £44 billion in today’s dosh.

And none of this even hints at the private sadness and inconsolable losses of those who received, daily, from the Admiralty, from Horse Guards, from commanding officers in Spain, letters informing them that their loved ones would not be returning home…

The war, it was everywhere…it was the carefree laughter and the relief of peace that were missing. And for many had never been known.

What the Regency is and is not…

I know, I know…why am I returning to this old chestnut?  You wish to read something new, entertaining, disgusting and/or engaging… (And where have I been for the last month, anyway, slacker that I am?)

(Off for the holidays, since you ask.  Followed by a vicious bout of manflu.  So much so that I can now say, with absolute conviction than manflu is not a weenie version of influenza but was in fact the secret biological weapon of the Spanish Inquisition or possibly of Dr. John Dee working undercover as a Tudor torturer in the Tower of London…)

But back to this Regency business…

I have, in fact, already attempted to herd the fantasists into some verisimilitude of historical accuracy or other in my previous blog on the subject where I discussed the actual dates of the Regency, in my so aptly titled blog, What exactly is the Regency, anyway?   And you would have thought that would be the end of it. 

Well, if you thought that, you’d be wrong. 

Now I hear–courtesy of the ubiquitous grapevine that is the internet–that one or other or several of our charming colonial cousins are insisting at some length and indeed volume that the Regency actually started in the late 18th century and that history isn’t the only criterion.  Or something. 

(I don’t know–I could have heard that wrong or I may have had a bit of fluff in my ear…)

To which I feel forced to ask, therefore, how are you defining the word Regency?  What does the word, in fact, mean, when you’re using it? 

Are you using it in reference to a period of time during which George III had been found to have lost his senses, irreparably impairing his ability to govern and his son and heir was made acting head of state, aka the Regent? 

Then you would be talking, as I have outlined, of a period beginning 5 February 1811 when the Regency Act became law and the death of the king in 1820. 

Or, you could stretch the point and date it slightly earlier, beginning-ish a year or so earlier, when George III’s mental health began to deteriorate as it had previously and his son and heir stepped in ex officio to keep things ticking over and running smoothly–it was a time of war, with all the matters of state that entails–until such time as his father recovered or his condition stabilised. 

But what if you don’t care a jot about history?  Fair enough.  Are you speaking culturally?  What if you’re talking about architecture?  Or furniture design?  Or when Napoleon was gallivanting about the Continent calling himself Emperor?

blokeWhat if, indeed, when you say Regency you’re actually picturing in your mind a chappie with his hair cropped and unpowdered, wearing a high white cravat constructed of heavily starched linen about his neck, a high crowned bevor on his head (which looks quite similar to our top hats), a tightly fitted tailored wool coat, a plain waistcoat and very tight buckskin breeches?  What if that’s what Regency means to you? 

Well, that definition of Regency would date the beginning of said period with the arrival of Mr. George Brummell in London and his appearance–which shocked his fellow members at White’s, particularly those of an older generation than himself–dressed as above. 

copy-of-beau-bonhamsBrummell bought his house in Chesterfield Street in 1799.  He also became a member of White’s Club in that year.  Though it wasn’t until 1802-3 that Londoners were treated to the first public appearance of the strangulation device known as the starched cravat.  He had also cropped his hair by that point.  And like many of his generation, he was no longer using powder–which was then heavily taxed to pay for the already long war with France. 

1802-3 is also the year that the French Empire waist made a strong showing in ladies wear, here in England.  The Peace of Amiens with France meant that travel was briefly possibly for those of means and what they did was pop over to France for a spot of shopping. 

The fashion for dressing in white muslin was not new–Marie Antoinette had swathed herself in layers of white muslin–but the simpler silhouette we associate with the early 19th century was. 

If you’re talking about furniture design, well, again the dates aren’t what you’d expect.  We associate the designs of Thomas Sheraton with the best of the period, yet his famous book of designs was not published until 1812 and it was published posthumously. 

HoratioNelsonThere’s quite a lot of gilded furniture about at the time too–all those gold leaf porpoises are furniture for the Age of Nelson–who was the great Naval hero.  Was he a Regency gentleman?  He wore his hair in a queue, and powdered, and had he been asked, would have told you and with some passion that he served George III and his country.  He was no “Regency gentleman”.  He died in 1805, well before George III’s descent into blindness, deafness and madness…

If you’re talking about the delicious interiors of Robert Adam, such as at Osterley Park, home of Lady Sally Jersey (absolutely gorgeous–a most lust-worthy residence!) you’d actually be talking about the 1780s when Adam and his rival James Wyatt were at the height of their powers and popularity…

pittWas William Pitt a Regency gentleman?  He was Prime Minister (until his death in 1806) during all the early years of the wars with France and Napoleon, yet while he lived and worked, George III retained a firm grip on the reins of government. 

Viscount Castlereagh, husband to one of Almack’s Lady Patronesses, and a political force of incalculable stature powdered his hair all his life.  And he didn’t drink to excess.  He hardly drank at all and he never drank spirits, though he was one person the Prince Regent considered a close and trusted friend.  Not what one would expect necessarily, is it?

(Almack’s Assembly Rooms themselves had opened in 1764…)

Or perhaps the word Regency indicates to you a certain sexual license and profligacy as exemplified by the Prince of Wales and frequently lampooned in the London newspapers and cartoons of the era.  Hmn.  

I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings and all that, but the previous generation’s morals, particularly those of the Whig aristocracy, were a great deal more…ah…exciting than those of the Prince Regent.  Check out the doings at Chatsworth when Prinny was yet a spotty adolescent living at Kew, if you doubt me–they make the poor man appear positively staid. 

Moreover, yes, I know that the Prince was considered universally unpopular and that is the picture one will arrive at if one relies solely on the London media–which was Radical and libellous by any standard.  

alexander 1814But here’s the thing–I was recently reading about a trip the Tsar and the Prince Regent made to Oxford during the summer of 1814.  Anyway, the Tsar left the dinner and parties early and flounced back to London (yes, it was rude–he was good at that!) because what he particularly liked was fawning adulation and the applause of the crowds–and he loved London for that.  The London crowds adored him and booed the Prince Regent. 

Yet in Oxford, the crowds were wild in their support for…yes, you guessed it…the Prince Regent, and loudly cheered him wherever he went, even as they ignored the Tsar.  And the Tsar didn’t like that. 

Which begs the question–did the London journalists and satirists actually speak for and reflect public opinion at the time or did they just shout the loudest and longest, drowning out all other voices?  And was there such a thing as public opinion in the early 19th century, anyway?

I could, of course, list dozens of more anomalies…and I’m happy to do so…but I think what I’m most trying to say is that for all that the word Regency is today used quite loosely to designate a period of time-ish, historical reality isn’t like that. 

Nothing happens all at once–and certainly not in a neatly contained box with dated end-papers put there for the convenience of later generations’ school essays.  Change occurs gradually and often generationally. 

Beau Brummell may have introduced his version of menswear and its astonishing wonder of the clean world, the cravat, in 1802, but not everybody hopped on the bandwagon and suddenly dressed like that. 

The elder generations thought he looked like a numpty and certainly didn’t ape him–to them, he probably appeared as the first Goth appeared in the 1980s–equal parts shocking, daft, foppish and unBritish or some such thing.  Those who did take up his lead initially were only a handful of young men from a tiny coterie of very rich and very aristocratic families.  (And it’s doubtful their parents approved.) 

Equally, in 1802, the majority hadn’t the means in that time of inflation and war to throw out their serviceable clothing in favour of what was new from London or from Paris.  Nor did they chuck out their serviceable chairs and tables the second the new catalogue came out from Ikea in 1812…

As the old was worn out, it was replaced with the new–the new cut, the new fashion in colours, the new fabrics from wherever.  Just as there came a time when the older generation was comprised of men and women who’d grown up thinking that Brummell dressed as a gentleman should dress, who had no personal memory of the old mad king, and believed that bagwigs belonged in the prop cupboard for family theatricals.  But this all requires the passage of unminuted time…

So, back to the definition?  Is that any clearer?  I don’t know…I hope so. 

Prinny RussellBut I will tell you one more thing.  Regardless of what they may wish had happened, the United States did not have a Regency period.  And do you know why?  Because in order to have a Regency, you require a king or an emperor kind of person who is in need of someone to run things for him while he’s not of age or of mental ability…and a king is one thing America did not have–they’d taken care of that by 1783. 

(Instead, the Americans had Thomas Jefferson and his rabid Anglo-phobia…to be followed by James Madison and his rabid Anglo-phobic policies which culminated in a declaration of war in 1812…And I’m fairly certain that did not stem from any desire to rejoin the Mother Country and share once more in the joys and privileges of having a Prince Regent…Ehem.)

Brummell and the Drury-Lane Ague…

Recently, a thing–as some will know–really got up my nose. 

Which, after I’d come down off the wall, got me to pondering what it was that had so enflamed my ire? 

And I, at last, in the small hours of the morning, came upon it:  it’s the trivialising and minimising of people’s lives and challenges in the early 19th century so that these people become nothing more than a ‘fun’ setting for some novel or other. 

The spark that fired me up was, of course, George Brummell. 

So today, I’m going to talk about him.  Specifically about him and about the thing that killed him–slowly and agonisingly–syphilis–the medical term for one of the several sexually transmitted diseases also known in 1811 as a Drury-Lane Ague. 

(And…I’ve just lost half my audience right there!  Because yes, what this blog isn’t going to be is ‘fun’.) 

You’re right, syphilis isn’t fun.  And it’s not sexy.  It’s not romantic.  It doesn’t have great hair. 

It’s horrible, it’s terrifying and it’s brutally painful.  But it was, in the 18th and 19th centuries, as prevalent and as fatal and widespread in its destructive sweep as Aids in the 1980’s and 90’s.

There are various theories and discussions about how and when it arrived in Britain.  Obviously, there are all those urban legends (which vary depending on which nationality is speaking) about it being the French disease or the Italian disease or the Spanish plague, brought back from the New World by the Conquistadors…

I don’t know which if any of these stories are true, half-true or complete and utter vermin dander.  The point is that even by the late 17th century, it was known as a killer.  And a messy killer.  (Anyone who’s seen the film about the Earl of Rochester as played by Johnny Depp will attest to that.)

They’d also worked out exactly how they believed one got it–the heterosexual exchange of bodily fluids with an infected person. 

So prevalent was it, that by the mid-18th century, veneral diseases had become very much part of the reality of popular culture. 

And we know this, in part, by the runaway success of Hogarth’s works which feature many characters showing the tell-tale signs–The Rake’s Progress and The Harlot’s Progress–and also by the numerous terms associated with it to be found in Captain Grose’s dictionary of The Vulgar Tongue:  fire ship (a girl carrying VD), peppered (infected with VD), Lock’s hospital (a hospital for VD patients), Drury Lane Ague…

(To give you a sense of how prevalent it was Europe-wide during the 18th century, some 25% of the population of Venice was infected…there’s even a Syphilis museum in Venice….it’s not for the squeamish–that’s all I’ll say.)

Anyway… 

They’d also learned, by trial and error, that the disease was passed down to one’s children. 

And all of this had led through the latter part of the 18th century to a lessening of overt promiscuity and a tightening up of morality (which plays in with the rising tide of Methodism from the 1780s or so)–at least on the part of the growing middle classes and gentry. 

As for the upper classes–the artistocracy and their friends–those who could afford to pay higher prices for their pleasures–they too became more particular (though, as you will see, not particular enough) about limiting their sexual partners and lovers to those who did not show signs of the infection…

George Brummell had come to London and had made a name for himself as a paragon of good taste, of elegance, an advisor on all things sartorial and taste-related to the rich and famous.  He was a gentleman.  

From 1802 until his departure for Calais in May 1816, he held sway as the arbiter of fashion.  Daily he sat in the bow window of White’s Club on St. James’s Street, cracking jokes with his friends, in an English Regency version of the top football player and friends of an American teen movie.  Or at least that’s how it strikes me.  He was ‘the man’.

But that’s only fourteen years of his life.  And this is what gets me so very cross.  Because like those teenage sporty-boys, these fourteen years offer only a glimpse of the full life of the man.  And the full life of this man, Brummell, was one of debt, depression and disease.  And it wasn’t fun. 

Like many of the other gentlemen of his acquaintance and class and at his club, Brummell frequently was seen at the soirees of Harriette Wilson, the well-known Regency courtesan. 

He generally was known to stop there regularly–late in the evening after the theatre; he was exceedingly fond of the cold chicken she served as part of her suppers…He may have had an affaire with one of Harriette’s fellow demi-mondaines…and there were certainly plenty of willing partners at these parties she threw…That was, in fact, the whole idea. 

So at some point, during the height of his fame and influence (judging by the progress of the disease) Brummell contracted a Drury Lane Ague.  Sometime between 1810-14.  Probably.   His behaviour suggests he definitely had contracted the disease by sometime in 1814.

(Just as a point of reference, having a STD wasn’t that uncommon at this time–Viscount Castlereagh contracted some sort of venereal complaint which laid him low whilst he was at Cambridge, and which caused him to cut short his university education…It wasn’t syphilis though.  That much is fairly certain.)

1814 is a pretty key year in terms of the history of syphilis in Britain too, because that’s the year the victorious soldiers and officers returned from Europe after defeating Napoleon’s troops in Spain.  And in their luggage, as it were, they brought back a more virulent strain of the disease than had previously been recorded here. 

As one contemporary author wrote:  “…there is a splendid pox in town, as pure as at the time of Francis I.  The entire army has been laid up with it, boils are exploding  in groins like shells, and purulent jets of clap vie with the fountains.” 

Nice, eh?  

From the outset, within weeks of contracting the disease, Brummell would have known he had it.  Primary syphilis is recognisable by the chancres and rash…the treatments for which could be obtained quite discreetly during the 19th century.  These were mercury-based pills and/or ointments that would clear up the rash and cause the initial chancre to disappear. 

Less curable was the wildly fluctuating libido which was a tell-tale sign of the disease, and that would range from mad for sex (called syphilitic euphoria) one minute to the next in which the sufferer is repelled by it. 

Reckless behaviour, severe depression, lethargy and frequent bouts of self-loathing also accompany this primary stage, and these characteristics certainly increasingly define Brummell’s behaviour during his final years in London–his wild and ever-wilder schemes for raising money, his depression at his deepening debt, his wild addiction to gambling which consumed all else, his rash and unstable behaviour toward old friends, including the Prince Regent.

How long this stage lasts varies between individuals.  But, at the time of the Regency, they believed that the disappearance of the chancres, the mouth ulcers and rashes signified that a sufferer was cured and could no longer communicate the disease.  They couldn’t have been more wrong. 

And Brummell, although he wasn’t bearing the outward insignia of the disease any longer, was far from well.  He was forced by his mountain of debts to flee England in May 1816, and once established in Calais, he shaved off his hair and bought a wig–another sign of the advancing disease is that the hair grows irregularly in unsightly patches.  

So from 1816, Brummell was hard up for money and living in very reduced circumstances, suffering from bouts of fitful depression, physically he probably felt rough all the time, and by now, he was probably impotent too. 

As the years progressed, the disease advanced into its secondary stage which in Brummell’s case (as in so many others) would have meant he ached all the time and the pain would be so bad at night that he couldn’t sleep. 

The onset of secondary syphilis is also accompanied by a measles-like rash a.k.a. roseolas.  And Brummell would have had terrible recurring headaches too.  He would have been acutely sensitive to cold and to heat, as well as suffering from a full gamut of tummy problems.  The mercury would be causing him to salivate excessively.  His teeth would loosen and fall out, along with all his hair.  His eyesight would begin to fail and he wouldn’t be able to distinguish certain colours either.  Certainly, his depression would deepen even further. 

(And anyone who saw him at this time would have known what it was that had infected him thusly–they might not have talked about it, but they all knew.)

By 1834, he was suffering from neuro-syphilitic strokes caused by his continual use of mercury–which is a poison in case you didn’t know.   They also included arsenic and iodide in their treatments at the time…they were mostly concerned with the outward symptoms of the disease, believing as they did, that if you could treat these, the disease wouldn’t act as quickly on the central nervous system.  (Wrong again.)

Brummell appeared to recover from the two recorded strokes.  But that’s deceptive.  He did a spell in prison for debt where he slept on a straw mattress–and that can’t have helped his condition. 

By 1835-36, he was suffering from tabes dorsalis which is the  physical manifestation of the onset of the final stage of tertiary syphilis and its accompanying dementia.  In other words, it’s the slow attack of the disease on the spinal chord and the spinal nerves, hence by this time, those who saw him would have noticed that his walk was ‘creeping’ and ‘snail-like’ and that he stooped. 

The dementia started to kick in as well and his moods would have ranged from extreme mania (hence the stories about him giving imaginary balls and ordering invisible staff about) to periods of quiet realisation of just what was going on and bitter weeping…

On 17 January 1839–against his will–Brummell was admitted into the asylum of Bon Sauveur near Caen. 

rakesprogress2He was now suffering from the final stages of Meningovascular syphilis and his many symptoms included facial paralysis andquaking, the loss of bladder/bowel control, his teeth would all have fallen out, his tongue would have been swollen and cracked and turning black as would his privates, he would have had tumours in the groin, weeping tumours would have appeared on his legs, and his brain would have been shrinking away from the bone casing of his skull and turning eventually to a kind of granulated powder.  He would have been quivering or raving and in constant agonising pain which would make him violent–and the treatment for that was to be hosed down with icy water…

Towards the very end, he suffered from almost continual seizures and quaked pretty much non-stop.  He died at 9.15 on the evening of 30 March 1840. 

I dare say, you now can see why I have a hard time with the presentation of Brummell as merely a man of witty repartee and a fashion icon.  His story is too terrible for that. 

And regardless of how one feels about his morals or lack thereof–I’m not particularly fussed or interested:  he was a man of his time–no one, not any one (no matter what they have done!) deserves to suffer like that.

It’s like reading about the French soldiers who died on the retreat from Moscow.  Now I’m not a fan of the Napoleonic empire, and I’d be the first to list the atrocities Napoleon’s troops committed all over Europe, but when I read accounts that tell me, “We saw round the fires, the half-consumed bodies of many unfortunate men, who, having advanced too near in order to warm themselves, and being too weak to recede, had become prey to the flames.  Some miserable beings blackened with smoke, and besmeared with the blood of the horses which they had devoured, wandered like ghosts…they gazed on the dead bodies of their companions, and, too feeble to support themselves, fell down, and died like them…”

When I read that, I think “No one deserves what Napoleon did to his men.  No one!” 

Even though I know that these very men were carrying the virulent form of syphilis all over Europe and spreading it far and wide via gang-rape–the exhumations of the mass graves of Napoleon’s soldiers from outside Vilnius and Smolensk have revealed (upon forensic analysis) that 80% of Napoleon’s troops were suffering from secondary syphilis.  (Which kind of gives the lie to all Nappy’s claims that he looked after his men like a father…the fellows he took to Russia were dead-men walking.)

It’s probably down to them too that Vienna was so infected with syphilis that young men like Franz Schubert contracted the disease on a night out.  Years later, Robert Schumann had to be incarcerated for the same reason…

But no one deserves these dreadful sufferings, and equally, no one deserves to be reduced to a caricature.  These were all real people, as real as you and me, and that needs never to be forgot nor lost sight of.  Not ever…

Alle Seelen ruhn in Frieden.

The depth is in the detail…

What with one thing and another, I come across a fair few number of young historians and writers in my daily rounds…and novelists and aspiring novelists and historical authors and all that…and I read a fair number of historical blogs too, some of which are utterly superb. 

(I’m always so grateful when someone has written about something I need to know!  It’s very much a case of my cup runneth over kind of thing for me…)

But one thing I’m noticing a lot is an emphasis or reliance on facts and nothing but the facts approach.  And that, in my estimation, has the effect of de-humanising history and reducing the lives of those who lived before us to something about as deep as onion-skin or parchment. 

This can be most acute with timelines, for example–not that I’m suggesting that one shouldn’t learn the facts, the names and dates and all that.  It’s essential.  Obviously, I think that.  I mean without it, you’ve got no framework upon which to hang the understanding of the events and people! 

But the thing is…the thing is…

How can I put this?

Well, the other day, I was talking with a student of history–focusing on the Tudors at the minute–and she was ranting about how much she can’t stand the blighters.  All well and good, but one of the reasons she gave was that Henry VIII stank so badly.  According to her one could get a whiff of his Majesty from a mile away. 

(Which seems hyperbolic to me, even on a windy day…but I digress.)

So I felt forced to say, “Hang a tick,” (not because I like the Tudors, because I don’t), “but I think you’re leaving out an important element here–you’re forgetting that they were human”.  I’m not saying that the Tudors don’t deserve a degree of mockery–as I said, I don’t much care for them.

“And whatever you do”, I continued, “Never let anyone make you forget that however different they were to us, they were human.   And allow them the dignity of being human–not just a name and a series of dates.” 

Probably, my comment went in one ear and out the other–but I tried.  At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

But it is a thing, you know…there are so many histories and works of historical fiction or romance where the authors seem to have no clue as to the humanity of those about whom they’re writing.

They’re not human, they’re not people–these figures who people the pages–they’re names or titles with a set of posh clothes.  Which makes them a named clothes’ horse–not a person.   These characters or historical figures are nothing more than cardboard cutouts–you can’t imagine them having a lie-in of a Sunday morning, or preferring sausage to streaky rashers with their cooked breakfast. 

But without some sense of character, of likes and dislikes, of what makes them smile or laugh, well, without that…I don’t know…history is reduced to this dry as late autumn leaves affair, with the life crushed out of it.  (Hence, it’s no wonder that today’s students perhaps think history is boring.) 

You see, we’ve got to go beyond the recitation of names and dates to the details that define the individuals.  And not just because it makes for more informative and more interesting reading, but because otherwise we are in danger of missing out on the great wonder and endless variety and sesquisuperlativeness of the human race.

Take the Viscount Castlereagh, for example. 

I mean, yes, he did all sorts of politically amazing things and he was Foreign Secretary from 1812 until his death and led the fight against Napoleon and was a chief mover and shaker at the Congress of Vienna in 1814 and probably one of the greatest Foreign Secretary’s ever…all of which is important, but…

…he also had a thing about renovating kitchens.  No, really, he did.  And every time he bought a new house for himself and Lady Castlereagh, the first thing he did was have the kitchen expanded and remodelled. 

I mean, how is that for quirky?  (Frankly, it sounds just like some friends of ours…) 

I don’t know whether he did it because he was a devoted foodie and an early Hugh Fearnley Whittingsall.  I don’t know if he had the kitchens expanded because he was concerned for the health and safety of his cook and thought cooking in a crabby little badly-vented kitchen was bad for her health.  I don’t know if he did it because he was keen as mustard on the new kitchen ranges that were being manufactured at the time and he couldn’t wait to install the newest version…maybe all of the above. 

But every time he bought a house–both Number 18 St. James’s Square and the farmhouse at North Cray in Kent, he redesigned the kitchen and had the walls pushed out until it was all modern and convenient (in the early 1800’s–how funny is that?) and they didn’t move in until the builders had done their work. 

Beethoven’s another one.  Did you know he had deep dimples in his cheeks, and when he smiled broadly, his cheeks had these great whorls in them?  And that he had a wildly flowered dressing gown which he used to wear in the mornings, and the Viennese used to see him through the open window of his flat in Vienna and laugh at him in it–that’s how garish it was.  And he loved it. 

Or Charles Vane Stewart, Castlereagh’s younger half-brother.  The brothers in that family, in general, seemed to be prone to bouts of depression.  (If they’re sounding quite modern–that’s because I think they are–or maybe they’re just human?)  Anyway, the same month that saw their younger brother killed in action in the Peninsula, also saw Stewart’s wife die after an operation to remove a brain tumour…

Stewart sank into a bout of deep depression–he really did love her…

And it was at that point that their son came to live with Castlereagh and Lady Castlereagh, because young Charles simply couldn’t pull himself together after her loss.  He never returned to the Peninsula, but was attached to the Allies from August 1813 as they pushed Napoleon back and back and back, all the way to the gates of Paris. 

Afterwards, he was a diplomatic envoy in Vienna, for the Congress there, and is notorious for drinking heavily (was he self-medicating?), having an affaire with the Princess Bagratian, spending heaps of money, and wearing yellow boots.  And having large parties and rowing with people.  Sounds remarkably like a lot of folk one could mention…

Or Lady Castlereagh…yes, she was a Patroness of Almack’s.  So?  One of the great loves of her life was wild animals–I mean, she was mad for them in the way people today have a thing about elephants or tigers… 

(I know, you didn’t see that one coming…)

And at their farm at North Cray, she had built a vast aviary and a menagerie, in which she kept ostriches, kangaroos, llamas, a zebra and even a lion.   She was also a seriously switched-on exotic gardener–O’Brian’s Dr. Maturin would have been her kind of guy–so she had this great exotic hothouse constructed so that she could grown the tropical plants which were sent to her from all over the world…And she really knew her botany…I mean, how cool is that?  How real?  How genuine? 

Another one–a person I don’t much talk about–is Lady Caroline Lamb.  Yes, there are all the famous stories about her chasing after Byron and all sorts.  But, she also lost two children.  I don’t know if it was a case of miscarriage or still-birth, but I do know that she suffered terribly with depression after the loss of those babies.  Her husband, William, was equally cast down, bless him. 

And all those stories about her slitting her wrists or swallowing shattered glass–do those not hint at a girl who–however rich and titled–just couldn’t cope and who was self-harming? 

(It sort of changes the way you look at her, doesn’t it?  It brings her closer…and makes her more understandable…even one of us.)

Beau Brummell loved dogs.  Really loved them.  It was one of the things that drew him to Chatsworth, where he was friends with the Duchess of Devonshire–she had lots and lots of dogs.  And, dogs loved him…Which tells you a lot more about his character than that he wore a high cravat–if you see what I mean…

So there you go…look for the detail, the individuality…it will bring history to life in all its glorious Technicolor delight. 

Because, I don’t know about you, but I am definitely more than my date of birth and where I went to school…and it seems to me that since I’d like to be known for more than that, the least I can do for those friends who’ve gone before, is to get to know them as I would wish to be known…

I’ve been tagged for the Next Big Thing…

It will come as no surprise to those of you who know me that I’ve been tagged by the rather charming Debra Brown, author of The Companion of Lady Holmeshire, in a blog game called The Next Big Thing.

This game involves answering questions about my work-in-progress or a piece that I would like to become the next big thing!  And after the questions, I will tag five more authors.

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing:
 
1.) What is the title of your book?
 
Or Fear of Peace
 
2.) Where did the idea come from for the book?
 
From the British viewpoint, the historical and fictional focus during the Napoleonic wars tends to be the Peninsular Campaign (fought under the command of the Duke of Wellington), the Naval conflict in which the Royal Navy led by Lord Nelson and others trumped the French, and Waterloo where the British and Allied forces–again commanded by Wellington–defeated Napoleon for good and all. 
 
But those battles and campaigns, as outstanding and inspired and ginormous as they were, aren’t the biggest, the most costly, or the most devastating campaigns or battles of the Napoleonic era.  Not at all.  The big battles, the battles which determined the fates of nations, towns and millions of souls, were fought in central Europe–in modern-day Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Russia. 
 
And it was there, in the heart of Europe, that the Russian Tsar and his indomitable and long-suffering troops (paid for by British subsidies of over £1 million) forged a final Coalition of forces–Russians, Prussians, Austrians, British and Swedes–who fought like stink to defeat Napoleon and his vast military machine. 
 
It was the most extra-ordinary uprising by these–on the surface–fairly mediocre monarchs to throw off the enslaving yoke of Napoleonic tyranny which had destroyed their kingdoms, their empires in some cases, their economies, their populations. 
 
Napoleon was a warlord.  A monster of war, if you like.  And his vast appetite for conquest, for military glory, for pillage, had consumed all of Europe.  And these three countries–Prussia, Russia and Austria–all of which had been badly beaten and appallingly treated by Napoleon in victory, managed to pull themselves and their outmoded armies together to defend themselves and to defeat him in the years 1813-14.  And I just think that’s so inspiring. 
 
It transformed the way people thought about themselves, their national interest, their lands…
 
It’s a story that has everything:  cowardice beyond your wildest dreams, monumental folly, courage and sheer bloody-minded determination, heartbreak, love, glory, treachery and triumph, love and defeat…and out of the ashes of that a European peace that would last nearly a century. 
  
3.) Under what genre does your book fall?
 
Generic historical fiction, I’d guess.  More specifically, historical spy thriller probably…I always have spies and I enjoy writing history with the pace of a John LeCarre novel.
 
4.) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
 
This is probably the most difficult question of all, because I don’t think in terms of modern actors.  Not ever.  I work from period portraits and miniatures.  Then too, many of my characters are actual historical figures, so whoever played them would need to have their look.  And mostly, I don’t even try to put together a face or imagine any actors in the roles when I’m writing.  But I’ll give it a go.
 
Captain Shuster:  possibly Rob James-Collier–he has the right colouring, he’s tall enough and I imagine he’d do very well with the extra-ordinary and harsh drive that propelled these men.
 
Boy Tirrell:  Absolutely no idea!  An unknown would be best, because that kid is a shadow…(though my view of the character has very much been influenced by the portrait used in the cover for Of Honest Fame.)
 
Laurent Picamole:  A Frenchman in his mid-30s.  Tall, and a good horseman.
 
Brundle:  No idea.
 
Lord Castlereagh:  someone who looks like him?
 
Sir Charles Vane Stewart:  (Castlereagh’s younger half-brother) Again, someone who looks the part, but also someone who can play drunken wildness very well. 
 
Lord Dunphail:  A tall, dark-redhead of a Scot. 
 
The main thing would have to be they’re all fighters…determined, steely, fighting men.
 
5.) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
 
In a world engulfed in war, the only thing more fearsome than Napoleon’s army is peace–for when did peace with Napoleon lead to anything but ceaseless woe?
 
6.) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
 
I expect that my current publisher, Diiarts, will publish it.  They’ve given every indication that that is their intention…I have the contract which says so, somewhere…
 
7.) How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  And read the intro.
 
Since I don’t write a straight draft, not ever, that’s moot.  I write a chapter at a time, editing and rewriting, until that chapter is perfect or as perfect as I can make it.  That may take 3-4 weeks or even longer.  And only when it’s complete do I move on to the next scene or chapter…
 
“Sat like a phasmid, still and wingless, his mouse-coloured coat no more seen among the tiles and slates and chimney-stacks than a heap of old sacking, for three days the boy had been watching the house on Mount Street.  Watching from the leads beneath the summer moods of a fitful London sky, watching as the shadows and light trailed across the classical portico and fine brick face, patient under a patient sky, watching as the morning was bleached of colour and the linens dried white in the yard.  Measuring out the hours from first waking to the lingering midsummer dusk which tarried like a dawdling gabey and counting the number of servants that remained within–the housekeeper, a maid, and two menservants. 
 
“Clocking their comings and goings, from that time when the scullery sashes were thrown open to admit the day, until the hour of shutting in when the jowly steward went about locking the doors and checking that the upper windows were shuttered and barred.  Perched beside an attic dormer or slouched against the flaunching of an adjacent chimney, the boy watched as the long hot hours dropped like weights, indifferent to the herring gulls and house sparrows which congregated near and far, chirruping and raucous, across the red tile ridges of the rooftops that stretched away in every direction.”
 
8.) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
 
Dorothy Dunnett’s novels covered a vast array of themes, characters and plots and sub-plots against a backdrop of impeccable research…I’d like to think I follow in her footsteps, though in a different time period obviously.  I’m told I write John LeCarre collides with Jane Austen in a Charles Dickens’ Sauce–is that a genre?
 
9.)  Who or what inspired you to write this book?
 
My last book, Of Honest Fame, didn’t end the way I expected it to.  I had intended for the third book I wrote about the Napoleonic wars to pick up the story of Ned Hardy, a character from May 1812.  And to begin with, I spent a lot of time trying to work out how I could combine the unfinished business from Of Honest Fame with the stand-alone story and themes I’d been intending to explore in book three.  But I eventually realised I couldn’t do it. 
 
But I knew that I had to take the story of those characters from Of Honest Fame forward to the natural conclusion of the war–which is the Congress of Vienna in 1814…
 
And in the meantime, I’ve had readers–who were as surprised as me by the open ending of the previous book–nagging (it’s the only word for it and I love them for it!) me to carry the story forward…
 
Then too, there are all those men who pulled themselves up by the bootstraps and fought on against these incredible odds to beat the most powerful military machine the world had ever seen.  They didn’t start out as anything special, these men, but through their tenacity in rising to the meet the exigencies of their age, they became magnificent.  I have just untold admiration for every last one of them.  They just go on inspiring me to want to get their stories out there.
 
10.)  What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? 
 
I’d like to think readers appreciate the extent and depth of the research I bring to my work.  I’d like to think too that the literary style is something quite special.  Though probably the fact that I always write about spies and the intelligence networks and weave that through the narrative is what gets most people going. 
 
But more important I think is this:  that my aim is not just to maybe a little show the reader what things looked like, but rather to put them in the room.  I don’t want them to read it.  I want them to live it.  To experience it.  To breathe it. 
 
At the end of the novel, if I’ve done my work correctly, the reader shouldn’t feel that they just read a great book about the last act of the Napoleonic wars, but that they were there.  That they saw it.  Heard it.  That if they reached out–they could touch the crumbling walls of Leipzig or the pristine painted surfaces of the Hofburg…
 
Because that’s what the best historical fiction can do.  It’s history that breathes.
 
With special thanks to Debra Brown for including me in this…and I shall now contact five other authors to see if they consent to being tagged–and among those five I’ve tagged are Terry Kroenung, Jonathan Hopkins, Alaric Bond, Jenni James…